Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with the Power Pose: Fake It ‘Till You Become It
August 28, 2018
We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it.” But what if the script was flipped so that you “fake it ‘till you become it”?
That’s what social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy proposes as a solution to boost your confidence and overcome impostor syndrome. In her 2012 TedTalk she shared her research on power posing and job interviews and took the world by storm. When I apply her teaching to my own life, I see how it can be totally applicable to parenting too. Career development and raising kids – you know I’m here for that!
What’s Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is essentially the feeling that you don’t deserve to be there. “There” being in a certain group, in a job, or in a position of authority. It’s that sinking feeling in the back of your mind that tells you “you’re a fraud, they are going to find you out sooner rather than later.” You may continue to go into that job every day and do the work in front of you, but you are just waiting for someone to come in with the hook and say “Silly you… nice try, but you haven’t earned this. Make believe is over.”
Have you ever felt like that? I have. Even as a person with a lot of confidence, I’ve let the impostor syndrome fairies into my brain more times than I’d like to admit. In college I spent the first year wondering if the Boston College admissions department had made a mistake. Everyone was smarter than me. I was a big academic fish in my small town pond, but I couldn’t hang here in the land of AP level everythings. It came up again in grad school when I was admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I thought maybe I was a little bit of a pity admit. And of course as a new parent? Oh boy, ALL the impostor syndrome. I have no idea what I’m doing!
I’m a Career Coach (?)
Most recently, I went through impostor syndrome MAJOR when rebranding my blog. I felt confident as a writer and humorist but I relied heavily on self-deprecating humor. Don’t get me wrong, I think self-deprecating humor is hilarious and I still use it a lot. It’s important not to take yourself too seriously and know how to laugh at your own quirks and missteps.
At the same time, that wasn’t my whole jam. Sometimes I was even offering up value on the silly blog of mine. And I wanted to do more of that – specifically to combine my professional experience in career development with the funny side of parenting. I wanted to offer a resource for thinking about careers that kept parents entertained.
But I kept bumping up against a marketing problem. Did I feel comfortable calling myself a career coach? A role that is literally in my job description at my day job. A role that I take on with friends and family on a regular basis because I am trained in career coaching skills, tools, and frameworks. No matter the logic, when I first started writing on career development I felt like a super impostor in a land of “real” career coaches. “Someone is going to find me out. Where’s the hook?”
The Power Pose
So how are we supposed to shake the “I don’t belong here” feeling? Well, it starts with faking it. And some inspiration from The Little Mermaid…
Cuddy’s research focuses on the power of body language to impact not just how others see us, but how we see ourselves. She found that our hormones are impacted by our body language which in turn impact how we feel and how we interact with the world.
To take the research a step further, she tested how “power posing” before going into an interview might impact the outcome. A power pose is a stance that takes up physical space and establishes dominance. Kind of like a bear on hind legs, or me when I’ve told the kids it’s bedtime for the 14th time that night and turn into The Beast. Participants adopted either low power or high power pose in front of a mirror before a five minute high stress interview. All else being equal, those who adopted the high power pose were ranked significantly higher than their peers presumably because of the confidence and power they exuded. It wasn’t just what they said in the interview, but how they said it and how they carried themselves.
My favorite line from Cuddy’s TedTalk is “our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.” That puts a lot a power in our hands. And in our backs. And in our feet. If we are not feeling confident, if we are feeling like an impostor, then we should try to adopt the body language of someone who is confident, and who feels that she belongs. As we convince others, we convince ourselves, and eventually you go from faking it to being it.
I Believe That Children Are the Future
Cuddy’s research was attacked from all angles, but follow up studies confirm her findings. The idea of the power pose seems simple, but it’s effective. The very fact that it is so simple leads me to think it can be useful for adults and kids alike who are feeling like they just don’t belong.
As a parent, when I know my kids are going to give me a run for my money, maybe I should take a mommy time out to get my confidence up. Like a silent pep talk in the mirror. A “you’re in charge here, they trust you, you know what you are doing” power pose. Fake it ’till I become it.
I love this idea for back to school season too. The New Year’s Eve of kid world, back to school means a clean slate and new opportunity. It also means new teachers, new classmates, new just about everything. That’s a lot for a kid. That’s a lot for an adult! Change can be super scary. It took me a full year to come around to switching peanut butter brands… And Glen still isn’t on board.
So as the new school year starts, I’m giving my kids the Amy Cuddy power pose challenge too. They might be a little overwhelmed by all the newness in their world. As toddlers and preschoolers, they don’t have a lot of power, and there may be times when they don’t feel like they belong, but I want to help instill a sense of confidence. The plan – before leaving for the day we’re going to do a Wonder Woman style stance and a big loud, “I can do it!” standing in the kitchen. I’ll report back on effectiveness.
Does it feel weird to experiment on my kids? No, not really. Parenting is one big experiment. And the worst that can happen? My kids get to be superheroes for a minute before school. I think we can all be okay with that.
With hands confidently on my hips,